Oregon: Duck Coup

<b>Steve Waters</b> looks back and analyzes the big Oregon victory from three weeks ago with Waters game balls going to <b>Drew Olson</b> and offensive coordinator <b>Tom Cable</b>...

Hats off to the UCLA Bruins: the 34-26 win over the Oregon Ducks was one of the most enjoyable games in years for Bruin fans. A hyped and hostile Autzen crowd, a stellar defense (317 ypg) spearheaded by a fearsome defensive line led by Haloti Ngata, a coaching staff that always seems to be one step ahead of the Bruin staff and a team coming off a near-victory over one of the best teams in the nation, California, didn't auger well for UCLA. But the Bruins planned, called and played their best game of the year in holding Oregon to 337 total yards while racking up 442 of their own, using 78 offensive plays to dominate the game.

This one didn't start very promisingly. Karl Dorrell's squad won the toss, but UCLA decided to give the ball to the Ducks first. Given how much difficulty UCLA has had stopping teams to start the game, and how much better and comfortably the Bruins have played when ahead, the decision was a curious one to say the least. And the decision was susceptible to immediate second-guessing when Terrence Whitehead gashed UCLA for 15 yards via a gaping, canyonesque hole straight up the middle. After a couple of botched running plays, Oregon had UCLA right where it wanted it: 3rd and 21. Once Kellen Clemens got flushed from the pocket and flowed right, it seemed inevitable that he would make an incredible throw and put the ball right on the hands of Oregon's heralded frosh, Cameron Colvin. Fifty-two yards later, and the Ducks had a first down on UCLA's 21.

From there, Oregon sent super-weapon Dante Rosario, a 6-4 and 240 H-back/TE but split out wide in a double tight formation, straight up the sideline. Trey Brown was in coverage and remained ‘on top' of the receiver, but Clemens perfectly threw a ball that drives DBs and their coaches crazy: the "stop fade." Basically, instead of lofting the ball and hoping the receiver can outrun the DB to get to the ball first if the WR has a step on the DB, the QB throws the ball on a line *behind* the receiver. If the DB is deeper than the WR, then the DB often doesn't see the ball coming, especially if he turns and looks for the loft. On the stop fade, the WR stops, rotates to the outside and screens off the DB with his body. And this is exactly what Rosario did to Brown for a perfectly executed six. Two throws, two strikes, and UCLA's worst case scenario of a hot Clemens was starting to materialize.

But then Trey Brown snuffed out the brushfire before it turned into a raging inferno. His 43-yard INT for a TD was the turning point of the game.

Over the last few years, Bruin DBs have been content to do the expected, never guessing wrong and getting burned big time, but never gambling and striking it rich. And in today's college game, a game where Os rack up points and yards at a dizzying rate, a play-it-safe DB consigns himself to a slow, painful demise. Finally, in Trey Brown the Bruins seem to have a DB who not only anticipates a play extremely well, but he also can make the play, showing great hands on his INT opportunities this year. Not to mention the scoot that Brown showed in blazing 43 yards for the six, leaving Whitehead et al. in the plastic.

Perhaps it is Brown's unheralded rep: he was the 126th ranked CB in the nation coming out of Kansas. (A two star guy, if that is your frame of reference.) But Os seem to go right at him, and why not? Yet his daddy Theotis seems to have taught him something about playing the game physically at corner, and he has that short-term memory deficit inherent to good CBs. If there's an heir to Ricky Manning Jr. on this year's team, it is Theotis Brown III. If Trey Brown is in the line-up v. Cal, does Geoff MacArthur catch nine for 163 and 2 TDs? And if not, does UCLA have a chance to win that game?

Once UCLA hit the Trey from deep, the Bruins went aflame. On 3rd and 1, Justin London and Wesley Walker used the havoc caused by a kamikaze blitz by Jarrad Page to fill the hole and drop Rosario for no gain, forcing the Quacks to punt. You can count on one hand the number of times UCLA has stopped a 3rd or 4th and short play this year. But it takes a gamble sometimes to make a big play.

After a great return from Craig Bragg was negated because of any number of blocks in the back, the Bruins started their most pivotal drive of the year with a "tight zone strong" to the right that Haloti Ngata foiled by driving Shannon Tevaga to the ground and absorbing the blow from Manuel White. (Ngata won the battle on that play. But give it up to Tevaga: on this day, he was the better man than Ngata. No way UCLA gains 280 positive yards rushing without Tevaga, with help from Mike McCloskey, beating Ngata like a drum.)

Thankfully, on 2nd and 12, the CB covering Joe Cowan mysteriously widened towards the sidelines when Cowan broke off his in route, providing a happy-footed Drew Olson a wide open target, which the DO drilled. Cowan did the rest by surging forward for three additional yards and a first down.

On 1st and 10, UCLA unleashed the secret weapon from the playbook that won them this game: the toss sweep. We've heard repeatedly that UCLA's OL are too slow to effectively pull and lead the toss sweep. But given Oregon's strength up the middle, and the insane number of tackles the Oregon DL has made this year, it would seem to be a no-brainer to avoid the Oregon D's strength and test a potential weak spot (the edge) instead. Sure enough, UCLA's OL, especially Shannon Tevaga and Paul Mociler, looked great getting around the corner, getting hats on defenders, so that Chris Markey was able to get some momentum and use his innate running skills and balance to turn a so-so play into a 15-yard gain. OC Tom Cable deserves some accolades for trusting his charges enough to actually call this play on an important drive. Heck, even Dan Fouts was gushing that UCLA's OL is athletic. What a difference a play makes…

The next play was back to basics: a lead blast up the middle by Markey highlighted by Tevaga's excellent double team block on Ngata. Tevaga looked shot out of a cannon on the snap, and with McCloskey engaging Ngata up top, Shannon drilled Haloti in the left side, opening a hole for first Michael Pitre and then Biz Markey to scoot through, this time for three yards.

On 2nd and 7, Cable called another one of the fan's favorite plays, a quick swing screen to the Manster that he takes back inside and up the middle by design. Ed Blanton made the play by expertly cut blocking the DE, making the DO's throw unimpeded. The Manster and the OL did the rest as White surged for another UCLA first down.

Three first downs in four plays, so naturally it is time to hit Oregon with the big play. From UCLA's perspective, however, the big play is the "wide zone weak" running play. Markey's job is to read Ed Blanton's block: if Blanton drives the DE out, Markey cuts inside Blanton's block on his third step. If Blanton hooks the DE, then Markey stretches the run to the outer edge. On this occasion, Big Ed put the DE on roller skates to the sideline, Steve Vieira drove Robbie Valenzuela way outside with some help from Mike McCloskey, who then turned inside to hunt ‘backer, and Markey ran straight up field for a 29-yard gain down to Oregon's 3 yard line. Only about the last five yards of the run were after contact, which tells you how well UCLA blocked that play and how soft Oregon's run D was at that point.

On the next play, the Manster finished off the humiliation by running virtually unmolested into the end zone. Bruins 14, Quacks 7.

Once Justin Medlock sch-toinked a KO out of bounds, the Ducks set up on the 35. But they weren't there for long. An incomplete pass that Matt Clark jumped expertly and almost picked. A slanting run by Whitehead for a 1st down. A long incompletion to Garren Strong (complete with a laughing sideline shot of injured Duck-heads, Tim Day and Demetrius Williams. Enjoying the game, fellas?) A superior play by Brigham Harwell to find the ball and drill Rosario in the earhole. And finally, a corner route that Ben Emanuel should have intercepted. Punt down to the Bruin 6th.

Before you can say, "94-yard Victory March"…the Bruins found themselves in a hole: 3rd and 8 from the 8. Naturally, the only call here is a "wide zone strong" to the left with your 240 lb. tailback. And after White gashed Oregon for the needed yardage, the Bruins ran the same play for 7 yards. After a near sack, the Bruins ran a trap play (!!!) on 3rd and short and were able to pop it for a 9-yard Manster carry.

Think that was weird? Imagine, then, the next play: play action flowing right, the DO rolls to his left, and finding no one open, weaves his way through traffic and runs for nine yards. Biz Markey finishes off the quest for a new set of downs with a 4-yard gain for another first down. After gaining 3 first downs in 8 plays, the Bruins and Tom Cable make another great play call: a screen pass to the left to Markey. Biz gashes Oregon for another 50 yards down to the two. Whoa Nelly is beside himself reminding us about how poorly Markey runs…

Two plays later, the Bruins had a TD, with the Manster again entering the happy zone without any supervision. He got there because of the great blocking Vieira did. There is no greater honor for an OL than to have the HC/OC call for the running play to go through his area down near the goal line. So far, Vieira was two for two on the day.

Were the Bruins really up 21-7 on one of the proverbial nemeses? Were things too good to be true?

Not yet, because the Bruins got a great play on 1st and 10 from the 32 by Spencer Havner to drop Whitehead for a one yard loss. Page made the tackle, but Havner made the play by shooting a gap and forcing Whitehead to bounce outside, where Page was waiting for him, and Whitehead was without blockers.

But then Oregon immediately began moving the ball. Clemens noticed that Justin Hickman was dropping in coverage on a zone blitz (which is so five minutes ago at this point), so he hit Whitehead on a flare pattern out of the backfield, which the former Crenshaw Cougar turned into a 15-yard gain. Hickman actually showed some exceptional mobility to stay with Whitehead enough to clip his heel with a swipe.

On the next play, Oregon ran Whitehead up the middle, where Aaron Whittington was perfectly positioned to make the tackle. However, Whittington just doesn't possess the speed or quickness to tackle a back of Whitehead's caliber, and was left standing still when the Duck bounced outside. Havner and Emanuel hit Whitehead at the same time, which meant that neither guy could wrap him up, and he plowed forward for another five after contact, 15 total.

Throughout the year, the Bruins have substituted very liberally on defense, especially after scoring on O. (Which is the most dangerous time to substitute, when a team feels desperate to score.) Up to 12 DL have seen the field during a game, LB back-ups Ben Lorier, Whittington and Dan Nelson have all received big minutes, and DBs Chris Horton, Eric McNeal, Dennis Keyes and Marcus Cassel have all filled in. But it appeared that Karl Dorrell and Larry Kerr really tightened the rotation for this game. The 1st team DL was on the field for 80% of the snaps, easily. And after the non-play by Whittington, the eyes in the sky, Larry Kerr, must not have liked what he saw because Wesley Walker was back for the next play.

Which was a hitch screen to Marcus Maxwell for 7. Trey Brown basically missed the tackle, but got enough of a piece of him that he lost his footing and Emanuel was able to jump on him for the finishing blow. From there, on UCLA's 32, Oregon began to implode a little: a false start penalty, and then just a gain of four on an option, with Justin London delivering a nice, hard hit on Clemens. Just what Bruin fans want before a 3rd and 4: a QB who's just been stuck. Thanks, Bellotti, for the play calling!

On 3rd and 4, the Bruins did a great job of coverage, which forced Clemens to flush left, but he was nailed 2 yards short of the 1st down by Spencer Havner, a huge play, with help from JLon. Once again, UCLA's pass rush was not as effective as it could have been. DEs Kyle Morgan and Justin Hickman took pass rushes that took them 10 yards deep into the backfield, but Clemens was never more than 5 to 7 yards deep. Where is the great pincher action Dave Ball and twin Mat Ball were able to produce last year to such devastating effect?

The next play was a gut wrencher for Bruin fans, because Oregon decided to go for it on 4th and 2. What a chance to just crush Oregon's spirit if a stop can be made! Using a double tight split and double wings, Clemens hit Rosario on a simple outside veer route because Brown *and* Walker got picked by the SE to the left, leaving Emanuel to make the tackle 14 yards downfield. Very nicely designed play for the Ducks, props to them.

Now on the Bruins' 17, with 5:25 left, the gutty littles stiffened in one of their best stands of the season. Allow the Ducks to get six, and it's a one play game again. But the Bruins manned up big time. It started on 1st and 10 when Clemens play faked left, and booted right. Kyle Morgan read the play well, and bulleted after Clemens, who didn't appear to even see Morgan coming because his eyes were locked downfield. But in a lapse of technique that has plagued UCLA all year, Morgan went after Clemens at full speed and out of control. Imagine how key a sack would have been at that point? But because Morgan came in out of control, it was a trivial matter, second nature for any kid playing on the school yard, really, for Clemens to okie doke Morgan with the sidestep left/ole with the left arm/swim move with the ball cha-cha-cha. If Morgan locks in on Clemens' belt buckle and breaks down just a fraction, the Bruins get a 10-yard loss. Fortunately, Ben Emanuel didn't give up on the play, assuming that Morgan would make the sack, and stuck with Dan Kause in the end zone, and Ben made a superior play to bat the ball down with one hand.

On 2nd and 10, Spencer Havner showed exactly how a defensive player should break down, turn a play back inside, and have enough left to make the play. The Ducks ran a reverse to Kenny Washington, who burned UCLA for a 100-yard kick-off return for a TD last year, but Havner sniffed it out immediately, raced to the outside with Washington stride for stride, remaining outside Kenny the entire time. As Washington's angle began to get him within Havner's grasp, Washington decided to turn it up inside, but Havner was able to hit the brakes and lunge back inside with enough force to bring Washington down for no gain. 3rd and 10.

The Bruins went to their 3 DL, 3 LB and 5 DB alignment, with Dennis Keyes replacing Kevin Brown. The Ducks threw a swing pass to Washington going left, and had blockers in front of him. But Keyes bulleted up from his weak safety position, totally defeated the block the SE attempted to place on him, and got into Washington's legs, forcing him inside until he tried to get back outside, but by this time the cavalry (McNeal, Brown and London) had flown to the ball and dropped him five short of a first. Nine UCLA hats were around on the ball on that crucial 3rd down play, a great sight to see, including Brigham Harwell, in for Hickman. But the man who made the play for the Bruins was Dennis Keyes, even though he didn't get credited with a tackle.

Instead of going for it on 4th and 6, Bellotti called upon Jared Siegel to drill the FG, he did, and the Bruins remained two plays ahead of the Ducks, 21-10.

The last 3:30 of the first half were completely forgettable for the Bruins, except for the great interception by Jarrad Page of a tipped pass. Talk about dodging a bullet: once the Bruins mangled their possession, the Ducks had 2:26 left and only 44 yards to navigate to make the score 21-17. All that execution, and only a 4 point lead to show for it?

Luckily, Clemens was pressured by Kevin Brown and Ben Emanuel while attempting to throw a slant to Maxwell, which delayed his timing. To compensate, he threw it harder than usual, and was more wobbly and less accurate as a result, throwing the ball high and behind his receiver. Instead of just letting it go by, Maxwell tried a one-handed catch, and did nothing more than execute the ol' tip drill for Page, who might not ever make an easier catch.

With 1:28 left on his own 27, Karl Dorrell took the air out of the ball apart from some token shots at the end zone. At least Markey got to pad his rushing stats…

Up 21-10, and getting the ball to start the 2nd half, the Bruins had the chance to put the Duck-wits in a row. And while they didn't drive home the stake into the vampire's heart, they did get a 52-yard FG from Justin Medlock after moving 43 yards in 7 plays. Medlock's kick, which hit the inside of the right upright, was so money. But not as money as the toss sweep right Markey ran on the half's first play for 24 yards; the shots of Markey running over the Oregon DB were worth the price of transmission right there. And again, you had to love the blocking by the OL. (Will we see this play called again this season?)

The biggest disappointment was the failure to convert a 3rd and 4 from UO's 34 yard line. UCLA again called a perfect play: Manny White on an angle route after Marcedes Lewis clears out the zone with his bad self. The fly in the ointment: White stumbled coming out of his break, the DO, as is his wont, put too much heat on his peg to the Manster, and Manny couldn't hang on.

Oregon answered right back with a TD drive of its own, highlighted by a 45-yard run by Whitehead right by and through Matt Clark, who provided poor run support, and an 8-yard improvisation by Clemens for the sixer, 24-17.

The wheels started to come off the wagon for UCLA on the next possession. The Bruins started on their own 24, and got consecutive 9-yard runs from the DO and the Manster. Eventually, the Bruins faced a 3rd and 2, but UCLA ran right into the teeth of the stout UO DL and front seven: how many times have we seen UCLA run to the short side of the field if the TE is to that side? No first down for you. A play action pass, after nine games of tendency, would probably work well next time around, no?

However, the worst was yet to come. Every fan's nightmare: what if the punter were to drop the long snap? Now we know. A 23-yard loss, not to mention a momentum loss. A grip on the game loss. A mental health loss. Bruin fan, thy name is frustration.

Good thing the players don't melt down as easily as we fans do. Seven point lead, but Duck ball on the Bruin 26. How do the Bruins respond? By dropping Whitehead for a two-yard loss. Havner saw the guard pull, and used his jets to shoot the gap and force Whitehead off his path. Luckily, Trey Brown was proving aggressive run support, and was on the spot to drop Whitehead with CJ Niusulu providing "jump on pile" coverage. After an 8-yard option pick-up, the Ducks had 3rd and 4 from UCLA's 21. And Spencer Havner once again rose to the occasion: while Clemens rolled right, and surveyed the field, Havner was shot out of a cannon after spying Clemens, hit Clemens around the knees, and dropped him for no gain. Siegel again converted the FG attempt, 24-20.

Of course, the next UCLA possession was probably the most important of the season. It provided the sixer that effectively sealed the deal. When the Bruins had finally corralled the kick-off, suffered a sack and run a toss sweep, they faced 3rd and 9. And the DO finally drilled a slant on time and on the money, which Junior Taylor took to the house. A number of Ducks flew through the passing lane, but Taylor stayed on it and hauled in the pass in his breadbasket. 31-20…

UCLA remained in control of the game until Justin Phinisee returned a punt for 73-yards and a TD. The Bruins burned clock with each possession, but didn't do much to stretch the lead, except for the coup de grace: a 12 play, 40 yard drive that ate 5:34 off the official game clock. The Bruins threw the ball to Manster and Biz Markey. All three passes were complete, two to Markey for 27 yards and the other to White for 5. But the other nine plays were runs. Medlock capped off the drive with a 50-yard field goal.

Because of this, the Ducks started their final drive on their own 22 with 2:08 to play. Clemens came out ready to fire. Whitehead and Garren Strong combined for a first down. Strong got one all on his own. And then Clemens ran down to UCLA's 40. But from there, UCLA's D stoned the bolts. Three incompletions later, and the Bruins had a well-deserved win.

The Bruins had many heroes v. Oregon. Tom Cable schemed his best game for UCLA. The DO ran the ball very effectively. The OL dominated the UO DL. Chris Markey is a star waiting to happen. The D, especially the DL, played much, much better than they did earlier in the year or even the week before.

There are still some concerns: the punting game had some big boo-boos, such as return coverage and catching the snap; and the Bruins were a little weak in the center. But only time will tell.

Next Up: Southern Cal


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